Office Hours with… Chelsey R. Carter

New faculty member Chelsey R. Carter discusses her research into health inequities, how she approaches teaching, and why you should meet her mom.
Chelsey Carter

Chelsey Carter (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

In high school, Chelsey R. Carter volunteered with an organization that helps people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), an experience that shaped the researcher she has become. She is now an assistant professor at Yale School of Public Health studying how inequality and bias affect Black people with diseases like ALS, and she encourages her students to find the inspiration in their own communities that make them want to make a difference.

We caught up with Dr. Carter for the latest edition of Office Hours, a Q&A series that introduces Yale newcomers to the broader university community.

Title Assistant Professor of Public Health (Social and Behavioral Sciences)
Research interest How inequality and bias impact Black people with neuromuscular or neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS
Prior institution Princeton University
Started at Yale July 1, 2022

How would you describe your research interests?

Chelsey Carter: I’m interested in how inequality and bias impact Black people with neuromuscular or neurodegenerative diseases. I ask questions about why Black people aren’t represented in certain clinical spaces and what their care and illness experiences look like outside of those spaces. Are they getting access to health care in order to get a diagnosis, treatment, and care? How are they being treated? And once we find those individuals, are we making sure we’re not deploying race-based medicine, science, and public health? Is discrimination getting under the skin? So really thinking through the ways we do science and how those understandings create racialized disease processes and deleterious health outcomes.

How do your anthropology and public health backgrounds inform each other?

Carter: I fell in love with anthropology because to me it was the only discipline that was asking serious questions about how people are different and how that impacts everything they do.

One of the things that matters a lot to me is local understandings of how things work. For example, understanding how Black people in St. Louis, Missouri experience health care inequities is particular to St. Louis, Missouri. And anthropology helps you get to those local nuances and complexities.

But anthropology didn’t always give me the tools to figure out how to solve the problem once you’ve identified it. And that’s where my public health training comes in. I’m able to now think through different interventions that can help prevent disease, disability, or issues of inequality in the ALS space.

What are you teaching this term?

Carter: I’m teaching a course called “Biomedical Justice: Public Health Critiques and Praxis.” In it, we look at public health paradigms and how we’ve been told we’re supposed to think and do public health and then ask how we can push back against that. We read from different disciplines, including anthropology, psychology, law, history, sociology, and the humanities. At the end of the semester, the students will pick a research idea that really matters to them, whatever they’re passionate about, and then complete an “un-essay” that captures their research idea in a deliverable other than a typical final paper.

One of the things that I try to do for my students is let them bring their full selves into the class and see how they’re experiencing and thinking about some of the issues of today. We can’t educate in a vacuum.

What would you like people to know about you?

Carter: I’m a Black girl from St. Louis and I really care about where I come from. I believe strongly in community. Community care is the only way we can make this world sufferable, good, and filled with joy for all.

I also love concerts, traveling to new places, and a good road trip — I’m a road trip warrior. I have a vivid memory of driving to Nova Scotia, the Grand Canyon, and Alaska as a kid. I think journeys are important. Maybe even more important than the destination.

Is there a person in your life you wish everyone could know?

Carter: Definitely my mom. She taught me how to be an ethnographer because she’s a really fantastic listener and a brilliant thinker. She’s hysterical and knows how to make people feel comfortable. You will walk away from a conversation with my mom feeling like a better person and knowing what your marching orders are. Everybody should meet my mom! Followed by my dog, Nala.

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